Turning the Power Down

News Analysis: Tech industry looks to products and specs to help reduce consumption and make data centers more energy-efficient.

Mark Barrenechea stood outside the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco Sept. 18 next to a 40-foot-long trailer, which represents one of a growing number of ways vendors are making the tech industry more environmentally friendly.

The president and CEO of Rackable Systems brought the trailer—the latest model of the Fremont, Calif., companys mobile data centers—to the Intel Developer Forum to illustrate one avenue that businesses are taking to reduce power consumption and cooling costs through innovative thinking.

"We are not following any model except to build what the customer wants," Barrenechea said in an interview with eWEEK, while talking about the model ICE (Integrated Concentro Environment) Cube trailer. "We ask the customer what they want to build. We do believe that this type of mobile data center will address the power, cooling and density concerns of the customer, and we are working to leverage the latest Intel technology."

The twin issues of power and cooling costs in the data center continue to push their way onto center stage in the industry. In New York Sept. 18, IT industry leaders signed a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Energy that puts in place a process for creating metrics that can be used to measure the energy efficiency of data centers.

Leaders of the 92-member Green Grid alliance, most of whom are IT industry executives, say the data center is a focus of their initial efforts for two reasons: Data centers consume a huge and growing amount of energy and are an easy place to isolate and thus measure.

In Dallas, energy efficiency was a key subject during the Data Center World show, with presenters such as Mark Monroe, Sun Microsystems director of sustainable computing, telling IT administrators that even the simplest solutions—such as shutting down servers that are no longer being used—can help the cause.

"Yes, just shut all those mystery servers down if youre not sure what function they serve," Monroe said Sept. 18. "Youll get an e-mail soon enough from the people who were using the server. Then you can just switch it back on, no problem. After about 90 days, if you dont get an e-mail or a phone call, then you know you dont need that server, and you should take it off the system."

Idle servers use nearly as much power as those that are active, power that is being wasted if the systems are left running while theyre not being used.

"This isnt rocket science," Monroe said. "Its all about data: Understanding your facilities, figuring out what to fix and figuring out how to fix it. Turn things on when you need them; turn them off when you dont. Easy first steps."

Power and cooling have grown in importance over the last couple of years as data center density has grown and energy prices have risen. According to the DOE, data centers used 61 billion kilowatt-hours in 2006, or 1.5 percent of electricity consumed in the United States. Those numbers are expected to grow by 12 percent per year through 2011.

DOE Assistant Secretary Andrew Karsner said at the signing ceremony in New York that the memorandum with The Green Grid sets a common goal of improving overall energy efficiency in data centers by 10 percent in 2011, factoring in current project data center use. "Data centers have one of the fastest industry demand rates, so you have no choice but to set aggressive goals," Karsner told eWEEK.

Larry Vertal, senior strategist of enterprise communications in Advanced Micro Devices microprocessor segment, said energy usage "is a complex problem, but data centers are the place to start because we can have the most impact [on consumption] there." AMD, of Sunnyvale, Calif., is a member of The Green Grid.

"The idea is to step back and look at the data center as a holistic system and really understand how that system, [including] CPU usage, cooling and networks, consumes energy," said Rick Schuckle, a senior technical staff member at Dell and a member of The Green Grid board representing the Round Rock, Texas, company.

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